Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Lord Sin," by Kalen Hughes

The Chick: Georgianna "George" Exley, the wealthy, beautiful, and fiery widow who eats scandal for breakfast. She shoots, gambles, and parties hardy with a cadre of devoted male friends.
The Rub: Keeps a house chock-full of beefcake, and maintains an iron-clad rule that no man sleeps with her for more than one night. Also, while she has a habit of doing and saying whatever she wants, most of the rumours about her are untrue.

The Dude:
Ivo Dauntry, lately returned from six years' exile on the continent, has come back to England to reunite with his family and take up the title of Earl after his cousin's death.
The Rub: Ivo got banished to continent after he killed an aristocrat in a duel over George's honour, only to return and find out she's hardly the meek, modest woman he was expecting.

The Plot:
Ivo: Grr! I can't believe I wasted six years defending the honour of a woman who keeps lovers only for one night! What a strumpet! How DARE she not conform to the feminine ideal! How DARE she not adhere to my standards even though she didn't even know me when I killed a man in her name! Ha! I know - I'll marry her! That'll show her!

George: Hey, baby. How's it been? Wanna spend the night?


George: How about NO.

Ivo: How about I kiss you very hard until you say YES?

George: .... alright.

George's Sexy Man Friends: *not amused*

Alloted Nights #1, 2, 3: George: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES....

Evil Frenchman: Whore! You killed mon pere! *strangles wrong woman* *botches assassination attempt* *shoots at George and misses* Merde!

George's Sexy Man Friends: OHNOEZ! Hurry and put our feisty, willful woman under lock and key so that she will be protected and safe!

George: No, really, you don't need to...

Evil Frenchman: Die, whore, die!

Ivo: Oh no you don't! *draws sword*

Evil Frenchman: *draws pistol*

Ivo: Shit.

George: *shoots Frenchman*

Ivo: .....

George: ... My hero! *marries*

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Best Friend With Too Many Children

1 Male Harem

1 Dirty Old Man

1 Marriage Proposal (refused)

1 Matchmaking Relative

1 Evil Frenchman

1 Sexual Act in an Inappropriately Public Place

1 Case of Bringing a Sword to a Gunfight

The Word:
Ivo Dauntry's been dreaming of the same woman for the last six years. Six years ago, Ivo caught a drunken aristocrat pawing a married woman and killed him in a duel, earning him banishment and separation from his family. Although he missed his home and family, Ivo's spent the last six years convincing himself that, ultimately, he did the right thing in protecting the honour of a modest English wife.

So imagine his unpleasant surprise when he shows up in England to catch that same woman - Georgianna Exley, or "George" to her adoring and predominantly male fanbase - hanging out at a boxing match, flirting outrageously with a man she's not married to, and maintaining a house that's part gambling hall, part boy's club, and part Playboy Mansion.

Ivo flares with resentment over the six years apparently wasted defending the honour of a woman who never appeared to have any in the first place. He's also offended that his sacrifice meant so little to her that she never bothered to live a decent, proper, unscandalous life for his sake - an irrational offense to be sure, seeing as Ivo and George barely knew each other before the duel was fought, but one Ivo feels all the same. However, his attitude changes when he finds out George is a widow - why, then she's fair game, and Ivo is determined to seduce her into a more proper, permanent arrangement.

But Ivo's not completely right about George. She's not one of those common rakish characters who are outrageous and scandalous for the express purpose of causing outrage and scandal. Her main crime is doing as she pleases, when and where she chooses to do it. She shares a warm relationship with her in-laws, babysits her friend's kids, and tends a swarm of men who are all happy with her the way she is. She doesn't defy ... she simply ignores. And while the scandal sheets are far too eager to label her a slut, she maintains her own special rule: she never keeps a lover for longer than one night.

When she and Ivo reunite, she's instantly attracted to him, but offended by his insistence that she owes him big-time for the outcome of the duel. The duel that sent Ivo out of the country also nearly ruined her (and weakened her relationship with her husband), so she's hardly pleased when Ivo demands compensation. His wheedling (among other things) eventually persuades her to upgrade him from one night of pleasure to six (for the six years in exile), but after that, that's it. She's done. Unbeknownst to her, Ivo's already planning how to make those six nights so good she'll extend the deadline indefinitely. Through marriage, ideally.

This book was a bit of a mix for me. I'd read quite a bit of reviews on the book (along with its sequel, Lord Scandal), and all of them emphasized how outrageous (truly, truly, truly outrageous) George is, but I didn't feel the novel delivered. Maybe I'm influenced by contemporary morals, but while George did bend rules and social norms, she hardly seemed the most scandalous person in the book. I guess by reading the reviews, I was expecting one of those loud and obnoxious (not to mention anachronistic) feminist characters who thwarts convention for the purpose of throwing it in the chauvinistic, patriarchal social establishment's face. Shows up at parties in pants, dallies with married men, hosts weekly orgies, intervenes in the upbringing of girls to teach them about sheepgut condoms and education etc. etc.

However, this wasn't a drawback for the novel. Far from it - George was rather lovable. I found it interesting she received such a nasty reputation just from doing what she wants in her own house and on the estates of her friends. She doesn't set out to hurt people, she doesn't interfere in other people's affairs, and she never flirts with men who are already married or engaged. Best of all is that she doesn't flaunt herself in society in order to incite social change or some such nonsense. She keeps herself surrounded by friends and family (including her in-laws!) who genuinely enjoy her company and respect her person and she's satisfied with that.

Actually, it was Ivo that I didn't like. I found his whole mantra of "She's mine, no one else's, she's mine, she just doesn't know it yet" incredibly annoying. I mean, I like that there's a gender reversal of the "rake and prude" plot, but I found Ivo's whole "mindlessly pleasure George until she does everything I ask" strategy pretty damn offensive. He spends most of the novel standing around looking pissed while George does her thang with her sexy man friends, which made me wonder why he even wanted to marry her. Their first reactions to each other when one of them walks in the room are always lust first, not love. Not "oh wow, he's here, my heart's so full" but more like "ouch! my nipples/penis!"

I think if he really loved who she was he'd stop thinking of her as belonging to him, and more of him belonging to her. And I think that was my main problem with the novel, was that I couldn't buy George's feelings for him. I get that he's crazy attractive and a god in the sack, but, well, that's not love. George is a free-willed character who's had sex before, probably good sex before, but almost all of her reactions to Ivo's presence are physical. She's horny, we get it, but what parts of him does she like that aren't ten inches long and engorged with blood?

I read the book and saw a man affronted with a woman's freedom and determined to curb it to his will, who succeeds. Fantastic. It wasn't George who needed to be tamed, in my opinion, but Ivo. C+.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Wicked Ways of a Duke," by Laura Lee Guhrke

The Chick: Prudence Bosworth, an overworked and underpaid seamstress who unexpectedly inherits her long-lost father's gargantuan department store fortune, under the stipulation that she marry within the year.
The Rub: She's the illegitimate child of a poor baronet's daughter and a man who ran away to America (and struck it big). Her grasping and neglectful relations, who never cared much about her when she was still the inconvenient bastard, swoop down out of the blue once she's made her millions to take over the responsibility of introducing her to society - and by society, they mean Prudence's dull cousin Robert.

The Dude:
Rhys de Winter, Duke of St. Cyres, an indolent, pampered aristocrat just returned from a scandalous tour of the continent to confront a mountain of debt and no money to pay it off with.
The Rub: Where to start? His father died a coke addict, his mother was a slut, his little brother hanged himself when he was twelve, and his Uncle Evelyn liked to played a mean game of Animal Grab...

The Plot:
Prudence: Life is so hard, I wish I were rich!

Lawyer: Congratulations! Your father is dead! You're a millionairess! As long as you find a husband within the year!

Prudence: Holy CRAP! Uh...I wish I had a sexy suitor?

Rhys: Do I smell money - er, I mean, beauty? Hey, baby.

Prudence: This is awesome - how many more wishes do I get?

Prudence's Grasping, Neglectful Relations: WE DO NOT APPROVE! The Duke of St. Cyres is broke! He's only after your money! He's a cad! And worst of all, he's not your cousin Robert!

Prudence: I don't care! I love him! I just wish I could know more about him.

Friend of Rhys' Who Shows Up At the Worst of Times: Like how he knew about your money from the start?

Prudence: .... Dammit! *breaks engagement*

Rhys: Prudence! I'm troubled! I'm a victim of childhood sexual abuse! And I love you!

Prudence: Damn that sexy troubled past! Fine, we'll marry, but against the stipulations of the will so we won't get any money!

Rhys: Fine with me. We'll survive on our love...

Prudence: PSYCH! We're still rich!

Rhys: ... love spread in caviar, dipped in gold and stuffed with sugared OWL BABIES! HOT DAMN!
Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Righteously Redeemed Rake

1 Heroine with Weight Issues

2 Very Bad Parents

2 Uncles with Unconventional Sexual Proclivities

1 Love Train

4 Gold-digging Relatives

2 Cameo Appearances from Previous Gurhke Characters (Emma and Harry! Hurrah!)

2 Trips to the Fishin' Hole (for fishing, you pervs!)

1 Romance Involving Secondary Characters (servants need love too)
The Word:
This is the second book in Gurhke's Girl-Bachelor series (which began with And Then He Kissed Her, and I think continues with The Secret Desires of a Gentleman), which seem to involve the tenants of a respectable ladies' lodging house run by the loyal Mrs. Morris.

Prudence is a lowly seamstress, earning her keep as best she can, and aided by a tiny allowance from relatives she hasn't seen for eleven years. She's right in the middle of getting bitched out by a nasty heiress while fixing her dress when rakish Duke Rhys de Winters shows up and plays the gallant card. Later that evening, she also witnesses him rescue a maid from being raped by a boorish peer, and leaves convinced of his heroism but certain no duke would deign to notice a seamstress.

However, unbeknownst to her, Rhys happily beds that same grateful and willing servant without a second thought. Rhys has spent that last few years using up his inheritance partying hardy in Europe, and has come home to find that his deceased Uncle Evelyn used up the rest. He's dirt poor, and while he can get by by shamelessly mooching off of his incredibly tolerant friends, he realizes that sooner or later he's going to have to marry an heiress or lose everything.

Prudence, meanwhile, gets smacked on the head with a Plot Device: her father, i.e. the man who abandoned her pregnant mother without marrying her, has died an obscenely wealthy man in America, and having had no other children, has left all of his fortune to her, under the stipulation that she marry within the year. Prudence thinks it's a dream come true -- for about five minutes. And then her Aunt and Uncle, who couldn't have cared less about her when she was just the poor family illegitimate, arrive in town with the aim of introducing her to society, all the "right people," and all the while keeping Prudence close to her limp noodle cousin Robert.

Rhys, shopping for heiresses at the opera, spots Prudence in the audience and is informed by a friend of his of Prudence's sudden good fortune. Dimly remembering their first encounter, he introduces himself and pretends ignorance of her changed situation. Prudence, of course, has already developed a high opinion of him and is delighted by his attentions, even more so because he doesn't appear to know about her money. Ironically, her grasping relations (entirely unaware of their own gold-digging tendencies) know exactly what St. Cyres is after.

So begins their courtship - with Rhys manipulating, spying, lying, and even blackmailing to maintain the charade until at last Rhys and Prudence are engaged. It is here, of course, that the story gets interesting. Prudence is head over heels for Rhys from the start, but it is Rhys who begins to change as he begins to fall in love with her. However, through his admittedly underhanded means of obtaining her affection, he's dug a mighty big hole for himself, and when the hammer comes down, it comes down hard.

This book impressed me in many ways, and in many ways also disappointed. First, the good parts: Rhys is finally a rake who does rakish things, and not just a man who claims to be a rake but really shies away from the morally-objectionable things that would lose him the reader's affection (like the ever-present "rake who'll never plunder an innocent" cliche). He lies, outright lies, at the very start for the sole purpose of gaining Prudence's interest because she is rich. He sees her as a romantic, day-dream addled nouveau riche and figures it'll be like taking candy from a baby. He follows that up by having his servant spy on her so he can "conveniently" show up at the same time, blackmailing her uncle into acquiescing to his marriage proposal, and snubbing Prudence at a ball for another woman in order to manipulate her emotions even further. Rhys is no saint at the beginning of the book, and that's a part of both the book's strengths and flaws.

Strength-wise, it adds significantly to the narrative tension. Rhys performs all of his dastardly deeds at first thinking only of himself, but just because he genuinely comes to love Prudence doesn't mean that all of his previous actions suddenly go away, becoming an interesting ticking time-bomb of dramatic irony that kept me reading. I'm not totally spoiling anything by saying that eventually, yes, Prudence finds out that he knew about her money all along - and, inconveniently enough, finds out right about the time that Rhys is on the cusp of professing his all-too-real adoration.

Of course, the flaws that this led to were the fact that I thought the solution at the end of the novel was far too easy. I've heard reviewers complain that Prudence seemed really way too naive to never suspect Rhys of knowing about her money, but I found I could deal with it. Her previous encounter with him, her first impression, had shaped the way she saw him and all of his actions seemed to corroborate it. However, the eventual revelation that he had lied should, according to her character, have pretty much completely destroyed her.

Before Rhys arrived, Prudence was convinced she was too old, too fat, too plain, but Rhys managed to convince her that she was beautiful, interesting, witty, and worthy of being loved. Thanks to that, Rhys' deception not only made annihilated her positive image of him, it leveled her positive image of herself - because Rhys had been the one to convince her she was special, but with his true (initial) motivations revealed, it cast shadows and aspersions on every happy moment they spent together.

Because of this, the way Rhys won her back (making a public announcement in the newspaper that he will marry her one day after the will deadline - thus marrying her after she's lost the money) seemed a bit simplistic to me - he may prove his intentions now, but could one newspaper interview really reverse all the distrust and doubt? The very ending (in the epilogue) does assuage this a bit with a clever move on Prudence's part but it doesn't eliminate the problem completely.

However, ultimately, I found the romance to be a sound one. As in And Then He Kissed Her, while both characters developed throughout the novel, one character had significantly more ground to cover than the other. In Kissed, it was Emma and her self-discovery. In Wicked, it's Rhys. Prudence had such a vaulted, heroic opinion of Rhys that he couldn't help but attempt to live up to it, and that was a pleasant plot element to read about. Prudence, in an unusual turn for a romance novel, declares her love for Rhys fairly early - and what the novel shows is Rhys' progression from dismissing this, to craving it, to believing it, and finally, to reciprocating it.B+.


There are, apparently, a lot more than fifteen blogger templates.

They're just not on Blogger itself.

Thanks to the WONDERFUL help from the Comments section, I found out finding a cool customized template is frighteningly easy and completely free. Once again, my ignorance astounds me.

But don't mind me - look at my beautiful blog!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Help and Bribery

First, the help part.

I want to make my blog look pretty. I've changed the template a number of times, but as Blogger only has, like, sixteen templates, no matter what I do it manages to look dull.

Like a blogger blog, basically. Or at least a Beginner's Blogger Blog.

I dunno, I guess I want my blog to have a little more pizazz, since I'd like to use my blog as a way to interact with my readers once I become a published novelist (and to prevent myself from nose-diving into Negativity City [Author Population: A BAJILLION] I like to assume it will be fairly soon), and I want it to look pretty and polished and professional.

Do you any of you know how to set an image as a background? Or change my title into a banner? Or any of the other HTML tricks I have absolutely no knowledge of because I'm an artist whose most complicated use of my computer involves playing Bubble Town on Facebook while writing book reviews at the same time?

Second, the bribery part, and no, sorry, it's not for you. Any help would be appreciated, but the only reward would be my sincerest thanks and the knowledge you helped pretty-fy the (soon to be! yes! SOON!) best-selling author's blog.

No, the bribery is for me. I'm not above bribery. I'm so not above bribery it's hilarious. If someone said to me, "Hey, wanna get into my white, unmarked van with stolen plates in the dead of night while you're standing in a darkened alley with no witnesses?" and happened to say (before I had a chance to scream for help), "Oh, and we'll hit a bookstore later, my treat" - I'd go "HELL YEAH, SUCKA."

I want to finish Reading the Willow King. Like, really fast. I have a bunch of other ideas that, frankly, I'd much rather be working on but I can't drop this novel because I drop every novel and I'll never be able to finish the good novel I WANT to make if I don't finish the novel I kinda sorta want to make but not really anymore because I'm bored.

I'm at about 85 k words right now - but only about 65% through the story (which is relatively normal with first drafts), so I set a deadline: August 31st.

This August - which gives me about a month a half, which is crazy-ambitious for me. I probably won't make it, but if I do, I've promised myself that I'll get to go to Chapters (or the Wee Book Inn, if I'm really cheap) and choose five romance novels guilt-free. No book buying until then. I kinda cheated by buying some books last week, but well, it wasn't really cheating because it wasn't guilt-free. I'm full of guilt - and now with two more books.

BUT!!!! Guilt-free if I finish by August 31st! Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"Welcome to Temptation," by Jennifer Crusie

The Chick: Sophie Dempsey, the goody-two-shoes sister to two rascally con artist siblings. Wants to make a plain, vanilla audition video for her brother's crazy ex-girlfriend and get the hell out of Dodge.
The Rub: Grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and gave her virginity to a clean-cut Town Boy who ended up humiliating her. She's now convinced privileged town boys are all alike.

The Dude:
Phineas "Phin" T. Tucker, mayor of the small, deceptively simple town of Temptation. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (all named Phineas!) were all mayor before him, so that's a lot of legacy to live up to. On the plus side, it means they've never had to change political posters or the mayor name on the "Welcome" sign for more than sixty years.
The Rub: Single dad to a cute little girl whose gold-digging mama died under suspicious circumstances. Lives with his mother - who has control issues of her own.

The Plot:

Sophie: What are the rules are filming movies in Temptation?

Garvey, the Hypocritical Conservative Mayoral Candidate: NO PORN!

Phin: Hey, are you guys making porn?

Sophie: No - but you're pretty.

Phin and Sophie: *commitment free sex!*

Sophie: *inspired screenwriting!*

Clea, Sophie's Client: Hey, that would make great porn.

Leo, Clea's Old Producer: Porn? I can make porn!

Zane, Clea's Ex-Husband: NO PORN!

Zane: *dies*

Sophie: Crap. Guess he should have said "NO MURDER" instead.

Garvey: *steals porn tape and plays it on prime time cable TV*

Citizens of Temptation: *Phineas Lynch mob formed*

Phil: Oh, crap.

Sophie: No, wait, I made the porn!

Phil: That's hot. Marry me.

Romance Convention Checklist:

2 Very Bad Parents

1 Lacklustre Sexual Rival

1 Single Dad/Widower

1 Precocious Child

2 Precocious Adult Siblings

1 Game of Commando Pool

1 Muuuuuuuurder

2 Counts of Attempted Muuuuuuurder

1 Relationship-Aiding Pet

2 Romances Involving Secondary Characters

The Word:
I haven't had this much with a contemporary romance for a long time. As you can probably tell by my more recent reviews, I've been focusing more on historicals. I'd also been a little iffy about returning to Crusie because after reading the masterpiece that is Bet Me, I had the misfortune to read two books of hers that were either m'eh (Getting Rid of Bradley) or confounding (Anyone But You).

The Smart Bitches Trashy Books gals gave Welcome To Temptation a m'eh grade, but then again, they'd also given Anyone But You a Squeeeee! We Love This Book So Much grade, so really, I can't exactly use them as a reliable measuring stick against whether I'll like a Jennifer Crusie novel or not. In fact, while I love the Smart Bitches dearly, I disagree with a very great many of their reviews so maybe I should go for their books that they give C's to.

Welcome to Temptation has a lot of elements that I've come to identify as Jennifer Crusie Trademarks, namely:

1. A weird/ugly pet (usually a dog) has to show up somewhere. In this case, it's Lassie, a weird Corgi hybrid dog abandoned by its owner that Sophie the heroine adopts.

2. Unseemly amounts of ice cream (usually Dove Bars) will be eaten by the female characters. It's Dove Bars this time, which they seem to eat every day.

3. The hero/heroine will love one particular musician above all others and their songs will provide a continuous soundtrack throughout the novel. For instance, in Bet Me, it was Elvis Costello/Presley. In Temptation, it's Dusty Springfield. Who I just found out by looking at iTunes is a woman. I'm an idiot. I kept thinking Dusty Springfield sounded like some of folk singer a la Woody Guthrie.

4. One of the protagonists (although, ideally, both) will have terrrrrrible parents. Holy crap, did Jennifer Crusie have a bad childhood or something? Nearly all of her books that I've read have at least one protagonist whose parents are borderline monsters. In this case, Sophie's dad's a con man but entirely absent, but Phin's mom is an ice queen - although, to Crusie's credit, a very realistically motivated and three-dimensional ice queen.

5. One of the protagonists (usually the heroine) will be tailed by an ex with a bizarre and rare form of receptive aphasia that prevents them from comprehending sentences that involve the words "I want to break up with you," "I'm in love with someone else," "we're over," "I think we should see other people," and "I don't want to have children with you." In Temptation, it's Sophie's psychiatrist boyfriend Brandon, who you'd think as a psychiatrist would be able to identify the concept of denial.

Anyway, though, Welcome to Temptation was a wonderful Crusie example and not a tedious Crusie example. The vast cast of characters, the witty dialogue, the well-drawn setting, it all contributed to a contemporary romance that I genuinely loved and belongs now on my Keeper shelf.

Sophie and her sister Amy drive into the town of Temptation to do an audition video for Clea, a washed-up actress and former porn star who briefly dated their brother Davy before dumping him for a successful (if boorish) TV anchor. Normally Sophie and Amy just do wedding videos, but Amy's looking to branch out and she convinces Sophie to do an improvised film with Clea to jump-start her career.

Trouble follows just around the corner and they end up in a mild car accident with the town's ultra-conservative and perpetually losing mayoral candidate Stephen Garvey, who takes an immediate dislike to them. His hair-trigger suspicions are raised when they admit to filming a video in Temptation, and his natural conservative prejudice against "loose women" as well as Clea's former career choices convinces him they are planning on making a porn movie in Temptation.

He is eager to bring up the triple-threat of Outsiders, Movie People, and Uppity Women at the council meeting a few minutes later, which is presided over by Temptation's actual Mayor, Phineas T. Tucker. If Temptation were a kingdom, Phin would be the town's King. His father, Phineas T Tucker III, was mayor before him, as was his father Phineas T. Tucker II and his father Phineas T Tucker the first. They've used the same political posters for decades (that read Tucker - More of the Same), and have never even had to change the mayoral plaque at the bottom of the Temptation Welcome sign.

However, Phin really doesn't like being mayor. He's an easy-going guy who likes books, beers, pool, and his nine-year-old daughter Dillie. He's been pressed into service for several terms now by his Lady Macbeth of a mother, the family maxim "Tuckers don't lose," and the knowledge that if he doesn't win the mayoral race, Stephen Garvey will. The Tucker dynasty was broken only once when Phin's dad lost to Stephen's, but the two dark years of Mayor Garvey's rule convinced Phin that while he's not fond of being Phineas T. Tucker the Fourth, it's better than the alternative.

However, Phin knows that Stephen will use anything to his advantage in the upcoming election, including accusing Phin of abetting the production of pornography, so he heads down to Clea's house to make sure Sophie and Amy are on the up-and-up. He's attracted to Sophie, who identifies him as a Town Boy and goes into Hostile-Defense mode, but he isn't entirely convinced that their movie is clean.

However, after a few arguments and interchanges and handiwork, Sophie and Phin allow themselves to fall into a commitment-free sexual relationship. Both are attracted to each other but unwilling to get too involved, Sophie because Phin is a Town Boy, and Phin because he's been burned before (by Dillie's now-deceased mother) and knows that an obvious relationship to her will jeopardize his standing in the election.

Of course, both of them start getting stronger feelings for each other, but obstacles start showing up in droves, in true Crusie madcap screwball style. Sophie and Phin's attempts to be romantic are repeatedly sabotaged by their disapproving relatives. Clea's old producer Leo shows up and is willing to produce their film - but he'll have to spruce it up with actual pornographic scenes first or it won't sell. Clea's adulterous boor of an ex-husband, Zane, arrives and is willing to blackmail just about everyone in Temptation to get Clea's movie shut down - and then he winds up dead.

I think one of the main reasons I loved this book was the setting. The town of Temptation. Population, about two thousand. Jennifer Crusie manages to create a wonderful town with its own politics and battle lines and rivalries, and stuffs it full of fantastically diverse characters. I'm a fan of small-town stories, but oftentimes they can veer into the twee, where characters are wacky just for the wackiness of it. Crusie crafts a realistic environment with a large (and largely endearing) cast of characters, all of whom are well-written. None of them are given a cutesy sugar-cookie background, and none of them are cardboard cutouts with nametags that read, "Hi! My Quirk is __________".

I mean, even Liz was given a background that sufficiently explained her frequently atrocious behaviour. I know there are nasty or annoying people in this world, and I know that nasty and annoying people make for interesting literary conflict. But they have to be human characters and human beings are motivated and have reasons for the nasty or annoying shit they pull. Thankfully, all of Jennifer Crusie's characters get a thorough, well-written workthrough. So basically, I loved the novel. Loved loved loved it. I loved the hero - I loved the heroine. I loved the town and its quirks (like their phallic-symbol water tower). I'll definitely be re-reading this again and again. A+.

"Countdown," by Michelle Maddox (Half-Review)

The Chick: Kira Jordan, a cynical thief and pickpocket who's managed to keep herself alive with her "flex," a mild psychic ability that allows her to read people's intentions. That is, until she's kidnapped and forced to participate in the deadly reality game show The Countdown.
The Rub: Terrified of the dark. Because it was dark when a burglar murdered her entire family seven years ago, natch.

The Dude:
Rogan Ellis, a convicted rapist and murderer of nine women who volunteers for The Countdown because, well, he's got 500 years worth of consecutive life sentences to work off, so why not?
The Rub: He might actually be innocent of the rape and murder charges, but he still knows more about The Countdown than he lets on.

The Plot:

Kira: Where am I? What's going on?

Evil Announcer: Welcome to the COUNTDOWN! Play or DIE!

Rogan: Looks like we'll have to work together!

Kira: But I don't know who to trust!

Evil Doctor: Kira, Rogan killed your family!

Evil Fellow Competitor: No, I killed your family!

Rogan's Brother: I'm an evil computer virus!

Kira: ... ... Dammit, my head hurts. Let's just have sex.

Evil Anonymous Audience: SCORE!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 World-Weary Tough-as-Nails Street Gal

1 Rugged Hero with a Daaaaark Paaaaast

1 Accidentally Televised Bout of Lovemaking

1 Inappropriately Short Skirt

1 Inconvenient Phobia

1 Nasty (or IS he?) Relative

1 Lacklustre Sexual Rival

Sci-Fi Convention Checklist:

1 Evil Robot Accountant

1 Not-So-Mad Mad Scientist

1 Example of Psychic Powers

2 Miraculous Healing Serums

1 Villain Who Wants to Take Over the World, nyaah!

The Word:
Nuh-uh. I think the good folks at Green Man Review must be on to me - they're sending me more sci-fi and fantasy romances than just plain sci-fi and fantasy. You'll have to head on down to in about a month or so to see my review.